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The Watergate scandal in the early 1970s exposed Richard Nixon and his inner circle as conspirators who were trying to cover up their criminal involvement in spying against their political opponents. Once it was uncovered, Nixon had to resign the presidency in disgrace, as many of his assistants and senior government officials were convicted and served many years in prison. A majority in Congress at the time, including Republican members, condemned the former president and voted to impeach him. The American public was shocked to witness the level of corruption reaching the highest echelons of their government. Had it not been for the audiotapes that were released by order of the Supreme Court, the extent of Nixon’s lawlessness and lies would never have been revealed or believed.
Now a series of audiotapes involving Egypt’s top military brass, which ousted former President Mohammad Morsi in a military coup in July 2013, were publicly leaked this week. The pro-Muslim Brotherhood satellite channel Mukameleen (Arabic for “We’ll Continue”) released the six audio recordings (see links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) in a special nightly program on December 4. Shortly thereafter, the recordings went viral on Arabic-language websites, though most foreign language media outlets have yet to cover them.
The contents of the audio recordings (31 minutes in total) are shocking, as they involve the highest-ranking military rulers in Egypt, including coup leader Gen. Abdelfattah Sisi, conspiring together, falsifying evidence, forging documents, and admitting to criminal behavior on tape, while acknowledging that the legal case concocted against Morsi was in danger of collapsing. The question of who released the recordings is still a mystery but rumors abound. The program presenter at the satellite channel Mukameleen insinuated that the leak came from a source within Sisi’s inner circle that is sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and the January 25 revolution. Haitham Abu Khalil, a prominent human rights advocate, tweeted that since the recordings came from within the Defense Ministry, the leaker must be a rival to Gen. Sisi, such as former Chief of Staff Sami Anan who declared his presidential candidacy last spring only to be sidelined by Sisi and ridiculed by his propaganda machine. Meanwhile, opposition leader Ayman Noor told Al Jazeera from his home in exile in Lebanon that the tapes are authentic because he has known the players and could easily identify their voices.
The individuals heard on the recordings comprise some of the major figures who were involved in the military coup and have ruled the country ever since. They include Gen. Mamdouh Shahin, legal advisor to Sisi, Gen. Abbas Kamel, Sisi’s chief aide and office manager, Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim, the interior minister, Gen. Osama El-Gindy, chief of naval forces, and Gen. Mahmoud Hegazi, head of military intelligence, who was later promoted to army chief of staff. The recording also featured Gen. Sisi himself, who was the defense minister at the time before being elected president last May in a vote that was considered by many neutral observers and monitors to be a sham election. In the tapes, Gen. Shahin also described the conspiratorial role of the chief General Prosecutor, Hisham Barakat (who was appointed to the post by the coup leaders) and several of his senior prosecutors including Mustafa Khater and Ibrahim Saleh who have been leading the prosecution teams against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.
Conspiracy in Action
It’s not clear when the recordings were made but they probably occurred sometime last spring when Morsi’s defense team challenged the basis for his initial incarceration and petitioned the presiding judges to dismiss all charges against him under the pretext that he was kidnapped by the military with no criminal charges until months later. According to Egyptian law, if the defense team was able to prove that Morsi was illegally detained, he would have to be released, after which he would have most certainly declared that he was the legitimately-elected president by millions of Egyptians.
During the first minute of the recording, Gen. Shahin is heard telling Sisi’s office manager, Gen. Kamel, that General Prosecutor Barakat was in panic mode and had sent him his three leading prosecutors (including Khater and Saleh) and asked him to “fix” his problem. During an earlier court session, government prosecutors falsely told the judges that Morsi was never kidnapped and had always been in the custody of the interior ministry, even though he was actually being held in a military barracks at Abu Qir naval base near Alexandria. Shahin then told Kamel that they needed to provide the prosecutors with “an order of arrest of Morsi signed by interior minister Gen. Ibrahim that must be backdated to the day of the coup.” Shahin then called Ibrahim (min. 2-3) and asked for the forged legal document to be signed by the interior minister. He also asked Ibrahim to make sure that the order was “printed in the official government records” so the order would appear legitimate, adding “as we used to do so during the days of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” – when SCAF issued backdated laws during the military rule in the aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster. On tape Ibrahim is heard readily agreeing, and requesting that Shahin provide him with details to be included in the order including, the address and description of the detention facility.
Shahin and Kamel then called Gen. El-Gindy, the chief of the naval forces, who commanded the naval base where Morsi was detained for several weeks before he was officially charged and transferred to an interior ministry prison. In the next few minutes (starting at min. 5) Shahin tried to convince Gen. El-Gindy to turn over one of his buildings in the base to the interior ministry to be used as a prison for a month until Morsi’s trial ended. When El-Gindy asked why they could not use an existing prison facility and claim that it was the facility used for Morsi’s initial incarceration, Shahin said that this would not work because there was an official report on record written by investigative judge Hasan Samir that gave a detailed description of Morsi’s detention facility that would not match any existing prison under the control of the interior ministry. In one instance Shahin warns (min. 9-11) that unless the prosecutors win this issue in court “the espionage charges and the Ittihadiyya (presidential palace) murder case (against Morsi) would collapse.” Shahin then stated that they would have to plan for the worst-case scenario, as he was certain that the defense team would request physical inspection of the detention facility that the judges may actually grant. In this case, the detention facility must be part of the prison system under the interior ministry and match what was already on the record. However, Gen. El-Gindy expressed skepticism, as he could not transform any existing building in the naval base to become a stand-alone prison and turned over to the interior ministry. Yet, he promised to look into the matter.
In the next audio recording Gens. Shahin and Kamel called military intelligence chief Gen. Hegazi (min. 13) to seek his support in getting Gen. El-Gindy to cooperate. In frustration, Hegazi complained that the military does not get adequate legal counsel and that’s why the military is now “collecting corpses” on the streets. Surprisingly, Shahin who is Sisi’s legal advisor, answered “there is no one here (i.e. in the military) whose specialty is the law in order to provide legal advice.” He further stated that interior minister Ibrahim has already agreed to sign the order and backdate it in order to “give the prosecutors the documents they need.” Hegazi then suggested that they build a “hanger” on the naval base “which the (army’s) engineering department could do in 72 hours”. He added “They could build a separate gate, fence it, put a sign on it and turn it over to the interior ministry as a prison facility.” Shahin was then delighted since the prosecutors told him that, “they had 15 days to finish the task.”
Military chief of staff Gen. Hegazi then called the chief of the naval forces Gen. El-Gindy in the presence of Gen. Shahin (min. 18) and asked if it was possible to build a hanger similar to the detention facility that housed Morsi during his initial incarceration. El-Gindy readily agreed to do it as Sisi’s office manager Gen. Kamel informed him (min. 20) that Sisi said that, “he should spare no cost because the important thing is to do it completely right.” He then added that Sisi instructed the interior ministry “to take over the new detention facility as if they had occupied it for 100 years.”
In the next recording, Shahin tells Kamel that all the falsified documents were now ready and then commented that Kamel “should not worry about the forgery of the documents” since no one would be able to challenge them in court. Kamel then instructed him to make sure that “all the prison records are also doctored including the registration of Morsi as a criminal prisoner at the time.” Shahin then stated (min. 21) that General Prosecutor Barakat is now “very, very, very happy because he was under great duress because of this problem.”
Shahin and Kamel then joked that the new place would be ready for inspection by Morsi’s defense team. Kamel suggested (min. 22) that they make the detention facility so authentic as to also include a “torture room” and show how prisoners “are hanged from their feet.” Shahin then jokingly responded: “you can always command us. Forgery is the order of the day.” Kamel then commented on the Muslim Brotherhood by saying “the bastards would never win. We’d never allow them to gloat against us.”
The next recording is the only time Sisi is heard on the tapes (min. 22:20) in which he stated that he had just finished a meeting with interior minster Ibrahim. He then asked Shahin if he had completed the task at hand with the interior minister. Shahin responded that he had, and that it was the hardest obstacle in this predicament, in which case Sisi responded, “Indeed it was a very difficult problem.”
In the next recording, Gens. Kamel, Shahin, and El-Gindy are heard discussing the newly built hanger turned prison facility (min. 23-31) at the Abu Qir naval base. When El-Gindy stated that the facility was now ready to be turned over to the interior ministry, Shahin jokingly intimated, “It’s ready for us” (i.e. to be our prison when the military rule is ousted). El-Gindy responded by saying that it was unsuitable for them since it was only a 3-star rather than a 7-star facility (min. 23). El-Gindy then proceeded by saying that the new facility matched the one where Morsi was detained in all its details including “chairs, beds, appliances, refrigerators, washers, and the garage.” He then added, “It’s the same as the original from A to Z – even the sports equipment is the same. We even left the newspapers of that period in the cells.” Kamel then jokingly commented (min. 25) that such immaculate details “would drive the man (Morsi) crazy.” Shahin then stated (min. 26) that “he arranged with the head of the prison system to send 3 or 4 prisoners there to show that the facility had always been in use.” When the prisons chief asked why not house more prisoners Shahin responded by saying “Hell no. Do you want to expose us? This facility is supposed to be a special prison for only a limited number of prisoners.” Kamel then said that he would inform interior minister Ibrahim “to send his security people to take over the facility” and that there is “a tacit agreement (with the prosecutors) to receive early warning before an actual inspection takes place” in order to get the facility “ready.” He then assures them that the prison guards would have already been “briefed and trained” so as not to be uncovered. Finally, Shahin instructed that “all the record books must be cooked with proper dates and names of visitors including the visits by the African leaders (to Morsi in his early days of detention) as well as by a delegation from Egypt’s human rights organization, etc.” Kamel then assured them that “Lt. Gen. Tariq has been working on this with interior ministry officials.”
When wolves are guarding the sheep
These revelations clearly demonstrate that Egypt is currently being ruled by a criminal enterprise masquerading as patriotic military generals or statesmen. Since the July 2013 coup thousands of Egyptians have been killed in the streets while at least forty thousand have been arrested, jailed and tortured. In essence, the coup was a counterrevolutionary movement led by the military generals and elements of Mubarak’s deep state that eventually resulted not only in the acquittal of the former dictator and his cronies but also in thwarting Egypt’s path towards freedom and democracy.
More than forty years ago, Nixon told the American public that he was not a crook, only to be shamed nine months later and admit that indeed he had violated the law and had to resign. But the military generals in Cairo are not only crooks by their own admission, but also murderers, thugs, and psychopaths. There are no parliament, judiciary, or viable civil society institutions in Egypt to hold them accountable. Meanwhile, the international community is looking the other way while Egypt descends into turmoil and chaos, and most Egyptians face unprecedented repression and corruption on a massive scale. During the 18 momentous revolutionary days in the spring of 2011, many Egyptians believed that the military generals stood with them against the tyranny and decadence of the Mubarak regime, and declared in Tahrir Square and across Egypt that “the people and the army are one.” Four years later most Egyptians who yearn to be free openly declare “no to military rule” and understand now more than ever that freedom and democracy cannot be bestowed by any one group but must be taken by the people themselves.
Esam Al-Amin is the author of The Arab Awakening Unveiled: Understanding Transformations and Revolutions in the Middle East. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.